Background: There are growing concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. With government-imposed restrictions as well as a general burden on healthcare systems, the pandemic has the potential to disrupt the access to, and delivery of, mental healthcare. Methods: Electronic healthcare records from primary care psychological therapy services (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) in England were used to examine changes in access to mental health services and service delivery during early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. A descriptive time series was conducted using data from five NHS trusts to examine patterns in referrals to services (1st January 2019 to 24th May 2020) and appointments (1st January 2020 to 24th May 2020) taking place. Findings: The number of patients accessing mental health services dropped by an average of 55% in the early weeks after the March 2020 lockdown was announced, reaching a maximum reduction of 74% in the initial 3 weeks after lockdown in the UK, which gradually recovered to a 28% reduction by May. We found some evidence suggesting changes in the sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of referrals. Despite a reduction in access, the impact on appointments appeared limited with service providers shifting to remote delivery of care. Interpretation: Services appeared to adapt to provide continuity of care in mental healthcare. However, patients accessing services reduced, potentially placing a future burden on service. Despite the observational nature of the data, the present study can inform the planning of service provision and policy. Funding: AD and TS were funded by Innovate UK (KTP #11,105).
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